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NLRB Complaint Says USC Athletes Should Be Treated As Employees

  • The NLRB claims USC football and men’s and women’s basketball players should be classified as employees.
  • The Pac-12 Conference “strongly disagrees” with the National Labor Relations Board's complaint.
The NLRB says USC football and basketball player should be rated as employees.
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The National Labor Relations Board’s Los Angeles office issued a complaint on Thursday against the NCAA, the Pac-12 Conference, and the University of Southern California, alleging the institutions have wrongly classified USC football and basketball as “student-athletes” rather than employees.

“The conduct of USC, the Pac-12 Conference, and the NCAA, as joint employers, deprives their players of their statutory right to organize and to join together to improve their working and playing conditions if they wish to do so,” NLRB general counsel Jennifer Abruzzo said in a statement, per On3. “Our aim is to ensure that these players, as workers like any other, can fully and freely exercise their rights.”

The NLRB’s complaint specifies that the Pac-12 and NCAA “possessed and/or exercised control over the labor relations policies” of USC football and men’s and women’s basketball players. In a statement, the Pac-12 said it “strongly disagrees” with the NLRB’s complaint.

“Ignoring the many important educational benefits that come with participation in college sports, the NLRB General Counsel would have USC treat its football and basketball players as workers who must be paid a wage, not students who receive scholarships or who desire to participate in extracurricular sports on a voluntary basis,” the Pac-12 said. “The impact of such a monumental change in the law would affect not just the football and basketball programs at USC targeted by the NLRB General Counsel, but the more than 20 different sports in the Conference that all operate under the same rules and academic principles.”  

A hearing on Nov. 7 will see the NCAA, Pac-12, and USC face an administrative law judge. During the hearing, Abruzzo will seek an order to require those three entities to “reclassify the Players as employees rather than as ‘student-athletes’ in their files,” according to USA Today. 

The NLRB’s stance to consider college athletes as employees is the latest blow to the NCAA’s grip on maintaining amateurism since student-athletes began being allowed to be compensated for their name, image, and likeness in 2021. 

Electronic Arts, a co-defendant in former UCLA basketball player Ed O’Bannon’s lawsuit against the NCAA several years ago when video game sales drove the national discussion of college players being able to benefit from their NIL, announced a licensing deal earlier this week to pay college athletes for appearing in its upcoming college football video game.

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